Preparing for Volunteer Engagement in 2021

2020 is in our rear view and the end of the pandemic is in sight. Nevertheless, nonprofits will face many of the same volunteer engagement challenges in the new year. Here is a new take on the same obstacles we face each year.

Consider New Policies and Processes

  • Vaccine – This is a tough one to consider, but thinking through the pros and cons now will pay off in the long run. Will you require, encourage, or strongly recommend your volunteers to show proof they have received the complete (parts 1 and 2) COVID-19 vaccine before being allowed to volunteer in-person? Maybe you’ll only require it when volunteers are working directly with clients? Maybe you no longer need volunteers to volunteer in person? Consulting with your insurance company or legal counsel before making a final decision could provide you with valuable information.
  • Social distancing – Use a web-based volunteer check-in tool (like Volunteer Houston’s Check-in Kiosk) that allows volunteers to check-in and check-out of a shift when they arrive on site without interacting with other staff. Here are a few reasons we think it is a useful (and timesaving) tool for Agency Managers:
    • Collect attendance easily: When volunteers arrive on site, they will simply use the check-in kiosk to sign-in. No need to coordinate a roll call! Volunteers can check-in themselves quickly and simply, so it is smooth sailing for the start.
    • Simplify logging hours: When a volunteer checks into and checks out of an opportunity (or their shift ends) using the Check-In Kiosk, their hours are automatically logged in your agency account in the Volunteer Houston portal, reducing time spent manually entering hours.
    • Reduce paper: No more paper sign-in sheets or recording attendance hours later.
  • Continue to require PPE – Despite COVID-19, we have things to do and we sure could use the help of our volunteers! For now, it is best practice to continue following CDC guidelines when organizing in-person volunteer opportunities. Provide and/or require facemasks, gloves, and hand sanitizer for your volunteers. Set up plexiglass dividers, social distancing floor markers and signs with reminders. You can get nearly all these supplies at no cost from the Houston ToolBank!

TIP: Remember to update your volunteer waivers and liability releases if you make any updates or changes to your volunteer-related policies and procedures.

It Is Not Too Late to Go Remote

Some volunteer opportunities simply cannot accommodate virtual or remote volunteers. Regardless, we encourage you to set aside at least 1 hour to have an open dialogue with your staff about the potential for pivoting your volunteer opportunities from in-person to remote. What exactly is virtual volunteering? I’m glad you asked! It encompasses two different concepts; both of which are considered remote. At Volunteer Houston, we define these concepts in this way:

VIRTUAL | requires some type of internet connectivity with a device such as a smartphone or laptop

REMOTE | performed off-site, not at the organization’s facilities or properties and does not require the use of any internet-ready device

Ask your staff these questions and encourage them to step outside the box and share their most innovative ideas.

  1. What specific tasks can volunteers do for us off site no matter how big or small?
  2. Which tasks require (and do not require) an internet connection?
  3. What have we always wanted volunteers to do, but haven’t been in a position to set them up?
  4. What equipment/gear/materials would we need to provide volunteers in a virtual or remote setting?
  5. How could our organization leverage the specialized skills and talents of skills-based volunteers to strengthen our operations and/or build capacity?

Read the 3 reasons not to be intimidated by virtual volunteering.

Talk to Your Volunteers Even When They are Not Volunteering

Engaging volunteers can mean building stronger relationships with current volunteers or cultivating new relationships with new volunteers. Since many of us have few opportunities to engage existing volunteers in service, why not focus on building stronger relationships with those we have already recruited? The time will come when it is safe to recruit new volunteers. Until then, we recommend making a phone call (as opposed to sending an email) to:

  • Thank them for their past service
  • Share a statistic or two about the impact their past service has had on your organization, clients, or community
  • Check in on how they’ve been affected by the pandemic
  • Determine whether they will still be interested in volunteering when you have opportunities to offer them
  • Share an estimated date when volunteer opportunities will be available again
  • Notify them of changes in volunteer policies, processes, paperwork, etc.

If you guys are anything like me, you likely will not answer your phone when receiving a call from an unknown number. (Thanks robo calls!) So, even when your volunteers don’t answer the phone, it is a best practice to leave a short and sweet thank you message.

Share the Strategy

It is difficult to develop a hard and fast strategy for volunteer engagement while still operating amid a pandemic with no clear end sight. However, you have likely developed short-term or tentative long-term strategies for the near and far future. Share your plans in complete transparency with your volunteers. It’s ok to admit “we’re not sure yet”. In fact, this is the ideal time to:

  • ask for their advice or input on how they would like to be engaged in the short- and long-term
  • learn about their special talents and skills that might benefit your organization
  • inquire about their ideas and thoughts on addressing DE&I and/or systemic racism as it relates to your volunteer engagement goals (start a listening revolution!)

Essentially, engage them in the strategic development of your volunteer engagement plans. You might even recruit a few of them to sit on a task force or short-term committee with that exact goal! Regardless of what you decide to share with them or ask of them, make it easy to digest with bullet points and pictures.

Raise Awareness of Your Mission

Your mission hasn’t changed. (Or maybe it has!) Let the community know all the great things your organization does for our community during the first annual Houston Together event to promote and celebrate volunteerism. This is also an opportunity to recruit new volunteers.

April 21st – 24th